Fintech’s Colossal Solution – Uber Moment? Microsoft and BlackRock team up

BlackRock and Microsoft are building a platform that will help people develop better saving and investment habits through more regular engagement with their retirement assets.

This initiative was announced in December 2018 and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted at the time:

“The firms plan to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering guaranteed retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.”

 

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry: technology platform providing retirement planning tools and direct access to new generation Investment Solutions.

 

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, according to WSJ “wants to shape the technology plumbing that connects it to different parts of the financial ecosystem handling workers’ retirement money.”  And for Microsoft, who needs no introduction, “an investment platform built with its technology could bring in new revenue as it looks to become a bigger cloud-computing player.”

 

BlackRock and Microsoft have made progress since December and FinancialPlanning.com provided further details in July 2019:

“The technology giant and the asset manager overseeing 15 million Americans’ 401(k) portfolios are developing an app and desktop tool aimed at narrowing the widening gap between what workers will need in retirement and how much they’re saving.”  (401 (k) is like KiwiSaver)

BlackRock and Microsoft are looking to reimage America’s path toward achieving greater financial security in retirement by bringing together BlackRock’s investment capabilities and Microsoft’s technology strength.

Together, they are exploring the next generation of investment solutions to help more people make better decisions as they work toward their financial goals in retirement.

Taking advantage of Microsoft’s technologies and BlackRock’s investment products, the companies are aiming to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.

The firms will begin rolling out their tool later this year.

By all accounts, this is going to be a powerful platform.  I’d imagine some of the tools will be like the BlackRock CoRI Index, which estimates the level of lifetime retirement from current savings.

 

Lifetime Income Focus – Next Generation of Investment Products

From an investment perspective the retirement tool will include guaranteed retirement income planning.

As part of the rollout Microsoft and BlackRock are designing methods of showing workers how much extra contributions today could end up netting them in retirement.  The intended result is that employees “have a clearer picture of how their contributions today will translate to long-term retirement income”.

BlackRock intends to offer the platform in connection with next generation investment products that it will design and manage. The new products from BlackRock will seek to provide a lifetime of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, BlackRock will be offering more sophisticated products than widely available now.  These Funds will seek to provide guaranteed income streams to participants as they get older, an element not common in 401(k) (like KiwiSaver) and other retirement plans.

The funds will be like Target Date Funds, a blend of investments that get more conservative as investors head into retirement. However, the funds BlackRock wants to roll out will also increase their concentration in financial instruments that provide regular payouts as participants reach retirement.  This is a massive enhancement.

As an aside, Target Date Funds would be a good option as the Default Fund for KiwiSaver.

 

Importantly, the focus is on providing an income stream in retirement.  There is a strong argument this should be the primary investment goal and not the targeting of a lump sum at time of retirement. What matters in retirement is income.

The OECD encourages the retirement objective to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, volatility of income in retirement is a good risk measure.

It is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

More specifically, the focus on retirement income and use of more advanced portfolio construction techniques as liability-driven investing overcomes one of the main criticisms of Target Date Funds.  Particularly, Target Date Funds should have a greater focus on generating income in retirement.  This means the fixed income allocation should act more like an annuity so that is pays a steady stream of income to the investor once they reach retirement.

The investment knowledge is available to achieve this.

 

Accordingly, BlackRock’s solutions appear to be more aligned with Goals-Based Investing and will be a more robust Retirement Income Solution than those available now.

There is a real need for these new generation investment solutions as many of the current financial products have shortcomings in meeting future customer needs, particularly the delivery of a stable and secure level of retirement income.

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry in relation to the development of new and improved investment solutions.

The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions to meet a growing savings crisis.

 

Defining Social Challenge – Addressing the Savings Crisis with Technology

As BlackRock outlined when making the initial announcement in December 2018:

Retirement systems worldwide are under stress and providing financial security to retirees has become one of the most defining societal challenges of our time,” said Laurence Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock.

BlackRock has a tremendous responsibility to help solve this challenge, and we recognise the need to act now. Working with Microsoft will enable us to build a powerful solution for millions of hardworking Americans.”

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to Defined Contribution (DC).

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

In America, millions are struggling to achieve their financial goals in retirement.  BlackRock and Microsoft are aiming to narrow the “gap” between what workers will need in retirement and how much they are saving.  This gap is estimated to be expanding by $3 trillion each year!

Therefore, there is a very real need to help people who are struggling with the difficult task of saving, investing, and turning this into a retirement income.

In BlackRock and Microsoft’s view the “shift in responsibility, from corporations to individuals, combined with ever increasing life-spans, has created a need to reimagine a new approach to securing a sound financial future in retirement – one that is powered by innovative investment solutions and the most advanced, trusted and cutting-edge technologies.”

“Technology is already revolutionizing entire industries and the way people interact with everything from health care to education and transportation. And yet, retirement solutions of today have been slow to keep pace. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies and innovative investment products from BlackRock, the companies aim to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.”

 

Thus, the need for new innovative investment solutions and technology platforms.

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

One Year Anniversary

Kiwi Investor Blog is one year old.

My top three articles for the year would be:

Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Endowments and Sovereign wealth Funds lead the way in building robust investment portfolios in meeting a wide range of challenging investment objectives.   This Post covers this and amongst other things, what true diversification is, it is not having more and more asset classes, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. A lot can be learnt from how Endowments construct portfolios, take a long term view, and seek to match their client’s liability profile. Although fees are important, an overriding focus on fees may be detrimental to building a robust portfolio and in meeting client investment objectives.

 

A Robust Framework for generating Retirement Income

This Post builds on the Post above and looks at an investment framework for individuals, developed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and their Partners. It is a Goal Based Investment framework with a focus on capital value but also delivering a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

The monkey paw of Target Date Funds (be careful what you wish for)

This Post emphasises the need to focus on generating a stable and secure level of replacement income in retirement as an investment goal and highlights the approach that is required to achieve this. Such an approach would greatly enhance the outcomes of Target Date Funds. This Post also references the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton around having a greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure of investment risk, as it is more aligned with investment objectives, unlike the volatility of capital or standard deviation of returns.

 

Kiwi Investor blog has covered many topics over the year, including the value of active management, the shocking state of the investment management industry globally, Responsible Investing, the high cost of index funds and being out of the market.

Of these, recent research into the failure of the 4% rule in almost all markets worldwide is well worth highlighting.

 

Kiwi Investor Blog has a primary focus on topics associated with building more robust portfolios and investment solutions.

The Blog has highlighted the research of EDHEC-Risk Institute throughout the year. EDHEC draw on the concept of Flexicurity. This is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching investment decisions. This is surely a desirable goal and the hallmark of a robust investment portfolio. The knowledge is available to achieve this and the framework and rationale is covered in the Posts above.

Flexicure is my word of 2018.

 

I don’t think the Uber moment has been reached in the investment management industry yet. Technology will be very important, but so too will be the underlying investment solution. The investment solution needs to be more tailored to an individual’s investment objectives.

As outlined in the Posts highlighted above, the framework for the investment solution has emerging and is developing.

It is a goal based investment solution, more closely tailored to an individual’s investment aspirations, so as to provide a more secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Is the 4% rule dead? – Approaches to Generating Retirement Income

The 4% rule of thumb equals the amount of capital that can be safely and sustainably withdrawn from a portfolio over time to provide as much retirement income as possible without exhausting savings.

Bill Bengen developed this rule in 1994.

There have been numerous other studies since and the rule has gained wide acceptance.

Essential to these studies is the expected returns from markets. By and large previous studies have been undertaken using US Equity market data.

Nevertheless, this raises several key questions: are returns from the US representative of other country’s expected equity market returns? and will the historical returns generated in the US be delivered in the future?

 

The 4% rule has been challenged in a recent article by Wade Pfau.

Pfau has expanded the research to include other developed nations (17 in total) and lengthening the analysis to 30 – 40 years.

Pfau concluded:

  • the 4% real withdrawal rule has simply not been safe;
  • even with perfect foresight, only 4 of 17 countries had a safe withdrawal rate above 4%; and
  • a 50/50 allocation to bonds and stocks had zero successes for the 17 countries.

 

At a minimum, investment outcomes can be improved from:

  • Increasing levels of portfolio diversification e.g. the use of alternatives;
  • A dynamic asset allocation approach that adjusts withdrawals to market conditions; and
  • An appropriate rebalancing strategy.

 

Pfau’s article is well worth reading, he concludes “It may be tempting to hope that asset returns in the twenty-first century United States will continue to be as spectacular as in the last century, but Bogle (2009) cautions his readers, “Please, please please: Don’t count on it” (page 60).”

 

The most insightful observation

In my mind the most important insight from Pfau’s study was that safety of generating retirement income does not come “from conservative asset allocations, and the findings from this figure suggest that from an international perspective, stock allocations of at least 50 percent during retirement should be given careful consideration.”

I say this given the sharp reduction in equities by many Target Date Funds and many Target Date Funds have limitations, see a recent post and another I posted earlier in the year.

 

More robust and innovative retirement solutions are required

We are living longer, and the concept of retirement is changing. New and more sophisticated investment solutions are required.

Thankfully the investment knowledge and approaches are available to provide a safer and sustainable level of retirement income.

These new strategies are based on Goal Based Investing, drawing on the insights of Liability Driven Investing (LDI) approaches employed by the likes of Insurance Companies and Defined Benefit plans.

The new generation of retirement investment solutions involve a more goal-based investment approach and something more akin Target Date Fund 2, which involves the adoption of a more sophisticated fixed interest solution.

 

EDHEC-Risk Institute

From this perspective I like the EDHEC-Risk Institute framework which places a greater emphasis on generating retirement income.

EDHEC argue investors should maintain two portfolios:

  1. Goal-hedging portfolio – this replicates future replacement income goals
  2. Performance-seeking portfolio – this portfolio seeks returns and is efficiently diversified across the different risk premia – disaggregation of investment returns

 

Over time the manager dynamically allocates to the hedging portfolio and performance seeking portfolio to ensure there is a high probability of meeting replacement income levels. There is no predetermined path. Investment decisions are made relative to increasing the probability of achieving a level of retirement income.

The Goal-hedging portfolio is a sophisticated fixed interest portfolio of duration risk (interest rate risk), high quality credit, and inflation linked securities. Nevertheless, investment decisions are not made relative to market indices nor necessarily a view on the outlook for interest rates and credit, they are made with the view to match future replacement requirements, matching of future cashflows. This is akin to what Insurance companies do to match their future liabilities (LDI).

The investment framework developed by EDHEC has intuitive appeal and is robust in the context of developing an investment solution for the retirement challenge. It looks to address the shortcoming of many Target Date Funds.

 

The EDHEC framework is a more efficient framework than the rule of thumbs that reduce the growth allocations towards defensive/income, and the income component is invested into market replicating cash and fixed income portfolios.

Nevertheless, and most importantly, the Goal Based Investment framework outlined by EDHEC focuses on the right goal, replacement income in retirement. The industry, by and large, has a too greater focus on accumulated wealth.

Accumulated wealth is important, but more importantly will it deliver the required replacement income in retirement.

 

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs to focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income in retirement. This goal needs to be considered over the accumulation phase, such that hedging of future income requirements is undertaken prior to retirement (LDI), much like an insurance company does in undertaking a liability driven investing approach. Focusing purely on an accumulated capital value and management of market risk alone like many of the current Target Date Funds may lead to insufficient replacement of income in retirement for some investors.

Lastly, and not least, a good advice model is vital and technology also has a big role to play in the successful implementation of these strategies.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Bitcoin a speculative bubble – Robert Shiller

An interesting Bloomberg interview with Robert Shiller, Nobel economics prize winner.

Shiller’s most interesting response, when asked about the possible comparison with the 17th century tulip bubble in the Netherlands: “Tulips are still valued, there are some expensive tulips”.

 He also made some other interesting observations in the Bloomberg interview:

  • Bitcoin is a social movement whose popularity is split along geographical lines, it is more popular on the West Coast, Silico Valley in particular, than in the East Coast of America
  • It’s an epidemic of enthusiasm
  • It’s a speculative bubble, that does not mean that it will go to zero

 

Of course Bitcoin, along with the other cryptocurrencies, has fallen heavily over recent months as regulators around the world have increasingly taken a closer look, particularly from the perspective of money laundering.

Bitcoin is currently trading around $6,600, down from $20,000 in December 2017.  Ouch.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Value of Investment Advice and Technology

I thought this was a well written and balanced article about the role of technology within the Financial Advice Industry.

The Uber moment has not really arrived in the financial services industry, particularly not in New Zealand (we have had a few cheap cabs join the ranks!).

The appropriate use of technology and mass customisation of investment solutions is the Uber moment in financial services industry.

The customisation of investment solutions involves a Goal Based investment approach, based on the principles of Liability Driven Investing.

A winning outcome will be the combination of smart technology and smart customised investment solutions.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement